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J Am Coll Surg. 1998 Oct;187(4):345-51.

Cancer of the esophagus and cardia: does age influence treatment selection and surgical outcomes?

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Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, BOston, MA 02215, USA.



Some physicians believe that an aggressive surgical approach for the management of cancer of the esophagus and cardia is unwise in elderly patients because of allegedly higher rates of mortality and morbidity and lower rates of survival than those associated with younger patients. We have long advocated an aggressive surgical approach regardless of the patient's age and have reviewed our experience to determine whether age was a factor influencing treatment and outcomes.


From January 1, 1970 to January 1, 1997, 505 patients with cancer of the esophagus or cardia underwent operations by one surgical team using standard surgical techniques. One hundred forty-seven patients (29.1%) were 70 years of age or older and 358 patients (70.9%) were under 70 years of age. Their records and clinicopathologic features were reviewed and compared.


The two groups were similar regarding the location of tumors. Tumor cell types were similar except for adenocarcinomas in Barrett's esophagus, which were less common in the older group (15.6% versus 24%; p=0.046). Surgical procedures were similar, as were the rates of resectability and the percentages of R0 resections. The hospital mortality rate was higher in the elderly patients but not significantly so, and the rates of major and minor complications combined were comparable. The differences in postresection pathologic staging were not significant. Satisfactory palliation of dysphagia was comparable between the groups, as were actuarial 5-year survival rates (24.1% of the elderly patients versus 22.4% of the younger patients).


Age should not be a limiting factor in using an aggressive surgical approach for the management of cancer of the esophagus or cardia in patients aged 70 years or older. Such an approach can be performed as safely as in younger patients, with comparable rates of palliation and survival.

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